Clay's Steinbeck Journal • March 10th, 2017
Our revels now must end. Everyone scatters tomorrow to go back to their lives. This has, in many ways, been the most successful cultural tour we have ever offered. The logistics were flawless. Food great. And we got to see Steinbeck Country in a big way. He was a man for whom spirit of place mattered. The Salinas River valley and Monterey were as important to Steinbeck as the lower Mississippi was to Mark Twain. We saw it all: the tide pools (Ed Ricketts); Monterey, including of course Cannery Row, not quite ruined by tourism; Ricketts’ lab, with the outstanding Susan Schillinglaw; Pinnacles National Park, designated by Theodore Roosevelt as a National Monument in 1908; Fremont Peak, where Steinbeck licked his wounds after discovering that you cannot go home again spiritually, at least not in Monterey. We talked and talked and talked about Steinbeck’s books, especially Cannery Row and The Grapes of Wrath.
For me, almost the best moment was Russ Eagle reading from Travels with Charley from the tip of Fremont Peak. The older women made it to the top, and they were a high-fivin’ and whoopin’ with the spirit of frontierswomen. Now we are in San Jose. Flights begin at dawn tomorrow. I think everyone plans to read more, read deeper, read better, read on Thoreau’s tiptoes as we move on with our lives. Today I sat for 40 minutes on the floor across from Rocinante, Steinbeck’s camper RV, the portable quarters from which he sought out his Travels with Charley. It is a sacred relic of Steinbeck’s world. It was precisely the way to see American then. All praise to Russ Eagle for his lifelong devotion to Steinbeck’s writings, and his willingness to share some of what he knows with all of us. But it is time for each of us to go home, get back to work, order some books on Amazon.com, and sleep in our own beds. That’s what Steinbeck wanted to do after his immense trans-continental journey.
My mind is already on the big Lewis & Clark trip for July 18-25. And for the next Steinbeck tour, whenever we can schedule it.